NeoRio 2016: Pollinators, Plants + People

Jutting up against the breathtaking backdrop of the Gorge, Montoso Campground in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area wends its way along the lip of the canyon. This Saturday, September 17th, the 8th annual NeoRio transforms the campground into an interactive playground where art and environment partner in a dance of exquisite harmony.

NeoRio is part of Questa’s 2016 event and education series. The inaugural event sprung from the brain of Claire Cotê, who returned to New Mexico 8 years ago after completing her Masters in Art & Ecology at Dartington College of Art in England. She wanted to create a time and place for artists in her field to share their work. Wild Rivers was an obvious choice for her not only due to its stunning beauty, but because she considered it to be part of her own backyard.

“I grew up hiking, biking, and camping there, and I wanted to expand my own and others’ experience of the place through works by artists that are site specific and place-based, and address relevant and related themes and issues,” said Claire when I asked her how NeoRio got started.

In 2009, park ranger Aron Rael introduced Claire to Jon Wenger, art professor emeritus at UNM. The three of them worked together to form NeoRio — Neo, Greek for New & Rio, Spanish for River. NewRiver: “The name refers to a new experience of the place, the gorge and the Rio, as well as keeping perspectives fresh and the river clean,” says Claire. “And it rhymes and is kind of fun to say, too.”

neorio2016postcardfrontwebThe theme for Questa’s 2016 event and education series is Pollinate: collaborate, create, celebrate. Already this year there have been events like the ¡Pollinate! StorySLAM and an Art Show at OCHO (which is still on display if you’d like to check it out on your way out to Montoso campground for NeoRio… hint, hint). I asked Claire why pollination? Her response, as usual with her, was expansively thought provoking:

“Pollination happens every year, all around us, impacts many parts of our lives and yet remains a mystery to many of us. Pollination is a beautiful, complex, sexy and essential process for the survival of plants, animals, and humans. It is inherently collaborative and creative. This is true literally, for plants to reproduce (think food!) and for bees, butterflies and other pollinators to survive. It’s also true figuratively, as with the ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas that prompts new thinking, understanding and innovation. The ¡Pollinate! theme is a call for putting our connections to work. It shines a spotlight on the global decline of pollinators and emphasizes local pollinators and the plants that help them thrive. Through art, science, ideas, stories, and more, we are adding to our communities’ thoughts and gardens, and that is worth celebrating!”

There will be three artists featured during this year’s event in addition to a local feast, music, artist talks, and of course, sharing of stories around the campfire. Each artist has a unique take on the idea of pollination and as the event title, Pollinators, people + plants, suggests, it’s always all about collaboration. How do pollinators and people work together? Pollinators are one of our most valued assets, but often on the periphery of vision. They buzz, sting, flit and flitter in and out of our lives.

The artists contributing to NeoRio this year bring pollinators into focus, demanding our attention and consideration:


“Bee” Watercolor on Paper, by Lee Lee

ADRIFT – MIGRATION – HOME by Lee Lee (Taos/Denver): “a nod to the chemical confrontations pollinators face, this project offers tools for NeoRio participants to grow pollinator habitat in a way that broadens perceptions of home and explores the interrelationships between pollinators and humans.”

Reconciliation: Sculptures for Humans and Pollinators by Viviane Le Courtois (Denver) attracts both pollinators and humans. “Often, people are tempted to destroy pollinators, and their habitats, because they sting, eat our plants, nest on our properties, or simply buzz too much. I am creating sculptures/interventions with natural elements along a path at the edge of the Montoso Campground for people and pollinators to meet, because we need to coexist,” says Le Courtois.

Precise Breathing or Why I Call My Baby Honey by Jenny Lynn McNutt (Brooklyn, NY) is a piece she calls  “something of a selective cabinet of curiosities….about the honeybee and our intricate and prehistoric relationship with them.”


“Ogeechee Tupelo” Writings translated into Braille, beeswax, inks & gouache/ paper, by Jenny Lynn McNutt, Courtesy Image

Each artist brings with them a dedication to reignite viewers’ perception of pollination.

NeoRio is just one of the many extraordinary events happening out in Questa spearheaded by LEAP (“Land, Experience and Art of Place”) and their partnership with the BLM and other local organizations. There is a common thread running through all of these events that I haven’t been able to put my typing fingers on since I started covering their events in 2015 (I was dispatched by Live Taos to cover an Earth Day Event at OCHO, and haven’t been able to stay away since). In an effort to expand my perspective and elocution, I asked Claire to tell me why she thought the juxtaposition of art and wild places was so profound and mind boggling. I leave you with her answer as a call to action to just go see for yourself.

“I think there are many reasons, but here’s one theory: art has a way of breaking down barriers, in places, between people and in our minds; art can also build bridges and connections between things that otherwise do not seem connected; art and artists can also suspend rules and social norms; being in nature or “wild” places grounds us and can remind us of what’s important and inspire a sense of awe in us. The combination of these two things, art and wild places can be an exciting recipe, at best mind-bending and heart-opening and at least entertaining, novel, and fun. In the case of NeoRio, it’s also about community and the experience of the place and artworks together, which is another ingredient of the recipe for the event. It’s about creating an experience that is hard to describe, a ‘You had to be there’ kind of thing.”

NeoRio is this Saturday, September 17th, at Montoso Campground in Wild Rivers, Rio Grande Del Norte National, Cerro, NM from 4:00-9:00 p.m. (to catch the fleeting beauty of sunset of course).

The schedule of events is as follows:

4 pm: Art Installations throughout Montoso Campground

6 pm: Local Community Feast and Music by Justin Dean and Mark Dudrow

7 pm: Artist Talks by NeoRio Featured Artists

8 pm: Campfire, Music and Poetry